It was a jubilant moment for Bill Harvey and Betty Harper when a couple of first year engineering students studying at McMaster University made one of their most desired wishes come true. The creation of a device that has made the lives of these two people easier than ever before is what had them smiling with glee once again.
Making an impact
Living at a care facility in Hamilton, Bill Harvey and Betty Harper had been using wheelchairs for a while now. Although well accustomed to it, the only hassle they faced and that both seemed to agree upon was turning on the washing machine. While Betty had cerebral palsy right from the time of her birth, Bill suffered a spinal cord injury when jumping out to save himself from a burning building. However, both always had trouble reaching the buttons on the washing machine and thus wished there was an easier way they could attend to it.
A program called the Impact Project was responsible for students from various disciplines coming together and creating devices that could make like easier for people with mobility and health challenges. Helping students work toward making a difference right from the start was the aim of this program. These students work to design simple yet helpful gadgets that have assisted people to better manage ordinary tasks, like tying their laces, changing gears and so on.
How it all began
It began with a simple task assigned to around 1,000 students – to design a gadget that could either open a door, turn on a washer or facilitate easy eating at the dining table while sitting in a wheelchair. The aim was to give the client as much freedom as possible while keeping the creation within $100. Engineering Professor Fleisig, explained that they were trying to make students think about the emotional side and not just the technical side of the project.
The prototypes were ready by November and presented to a panel. Most of the gadgets were creations made of wires, pipes and other cheap purchases. Questions were raised about whether the devices properly performed the required function and whether they were within the specified budget.
The final showdown
Out of 200 teams that took part, ten finalists were asked to present their ideas before a panel that consisted of Professors as well as staff of St. Peter’s Residence, which is where Betty and Bill were residing. The washer devices caught the attention of Bill and Betty, particularly one called Phantom Arm and Betty showcased a keen interest to try it out.
The winners were soon declared and Phantom Arm claimed the top spot for design along with another device. The Arm comes with hooks and pegs that enable a user to open and close the lid of the washer without any hassle along with pressing or turning buttons.
The team that designed it put themselves in Betty’s shoes and tried to ensure they had taken every safety factor into account. On the other hand, the experience was an eye-opener for Harvey as it made him feel he should have stayed in school and continued to study about such things.
Biology Professor, Kajiura, said that many established companies have shown interest in these creations by the students since they are designed to make life easier, paving a better future for themselves as well as for others.